Xplorlabs is a free, innovative digital platform that bridges the gap between classroom and real-world engineering problems and inspires critical thinking and innovative applications of STEM concepts.
A flexible complement to middle school science, technology, and engineering curricula
Middle school (grades 5-9) is a critical time in students’ academics and personal identity formation and a time when decisions about their future careers are created. It is also a time when students’ engagement in STEM topics and skills declines, creating a cliff-like drop-off and derailment from STEM career pathways. This problem is especially evident in communities in poverty, for girls, and for students of color; combined this demographic is called “underrepresented minorities” in STEM. Compounding these issues with STEM education is the level of science literacy after COVID-19 and a teacher shortage.
Building on a platform designed to counter a loss of engagement in science common to middle school students, in 2023 the Office of Research Experiences and Education (OREE) launched a redesigned Xplorlabs, reflecting contemporary best practices in science and engineering education and incorporating feedback from more than 200 educators.
STEM pathways to develop the next generation of problem-solvers
At the heart of STEM is problem-solving and processing skills that apply to everything students will do for the rest of their lives. Xplorlabs helps teachers engage young minds in a way that cultivates a passion for inquiry as well as generates excitement for problem-solving.
By encouraging students to ask why a phenomenon happens and how they can solve the problem, the Xplorlabs experience connects teachers and students with practicing UL Research Institutes and UL Standards & Engagement engineers, scientists, chemists, and researchers who engage in the process of asking scientific questions every day.
“Gone are the days of memorizing boring facts! When learning is relevant and contextualized in a real-world setting students are more engaged,” says Dr. Sally Creel, STEM and Innovation Supervisor at Cobb County Schools in Georgia.
Enhancing traditional classroom learning
Adaptable learning solutions for educators and students can be easily incorporated into existing curricula and serve as a springboard for deeper understanding, curiosity, and robust classroom discussion. The modules are designed so that students can lead themselves and an educator facilitates the conversation.
“For a program like this to be valuable to teachers, it must not only be informed by Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), but also allow students to solve real world problems with creative solutions, not prescribed results,” says Dr. Kelly Keena, OREE director.
Since 2015, Xplorlabs has worked directly with students and teachers in hundreds of communities in the United States and Europe.
Xplorlabs won the 2017 Online Marketing Media and Advertising (OMMA) Award, was nominated for the 2018 Webby Awards, and was a finalist for the EdTech Awards in 2018 and 2020.
Middle school teachers and students watch our engineers and scientists as they demonstrate solutions to relevant, real-world engineering challenges.
Research-based and teacher-tested, all content aligns with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
Xplorlabs Wraps Up Second Year of Teacher Ambassadors Program
Xplorlabs resources link safety science research with foundational STEM concepts. These resources – including comprehensive modules and lab activities – are designed to bring the expertise of Underwriters Laboratories’ eminent scientists and researchers to a broader audience.
Following a Phone Battery from Creation to Destruction
In this UL Xplorlabs module, students follow a phone battery on its supply chain journey from resource extraction to device disposal. As they begin to understand the supply chain complexities, they are immersed in a real-world study, collaborating to devise solutions to minimize e-waste.
Reading the Fire and Building a Claim After Investigation
The UL Xplorlabs module 'Fire Forensics: Claims and Evidence' provides students with an understanding of fire, fire dynamics and fire behavior, enabling them to read a fire scene and build a claim for a fire's location of origin and cause.